MANAMA, Bahrain (AP) — Bahrain's main Shiite groups suspended participation in reconciliation talks with the Sunni-led government Wednesday after the detention of a top opposition figure in the violence-wracked Gulf nation.
The decision deepens the showdown over Khalil al-Marzooq, a former deputy parliament speaker, who is under investigation for allegedly encouraging anti-government violence. His supporters claim he was targeted by Bahrain's Western-backed authorities in attempts to punish the opposition after recent criticism from European officials about government crackdowns on dissent.
Repeated rounds of political talks have failed to significantly close the rifts between the Sunni establishment and Shiite factions, which began an Arab Spring-inspired uprising in early 2011 to seek greater political rights. More than 65 people have died in the unrest, but rights groups and others place the death toll higher.
The snub by the Shiite groups closes one of the main channels for dialogue and could sharply escalate tensions in the strategic kingdom, home to the U.S. Navy's 5th Fleet. A government statement quoted Nayef Yousif, head of Bahrain's public prosecution, as saying al-Marzooq is accused of instigating violence and having links to a protest faction that authorities blame for bombings and other attacks. Al-Marzooq, who was detained Tuesday, was ordered held for 30 days during the investigation.
Al-Marzooq is a top member of Al Wefaq, the main political bloc of Bahrain's Shiite majority. In Washington, State Department deputy spokeswoman Marie Harf said Wednesday that the U.S. would raise the issue with Bahraini authorities as part of its discussion of recent political events in Bahrain.
"We are disappointed that opposition groups have suspended their involvement. I think it's an important forum. We would hope that everybody would be part of that process," Harf said. Also Wednesday, Bahrain's public security chief, Maj. Gen. Tariq Hassan al-Hassan, said a policeman died of injuries suffered in a bomb blast last month.